Silver Spring - September 1975
Before considering this incredibly important event, let me remind you that when God wanted an Ark to save His own from the flood, He gave Noah implicit instructions with exact measurements. Then when God wanted a house in which to dwell on Earth, He gave Moses the exact details, which were not to be questioned nor altered. Both of these events show that it was God’s work, and man had only to follow His instructions.
Let us take note of the unity of those early church followers of Jesus as they waited in the upper room in Acts 1:13-14. Luke reports that they were together, continuing “with one accord in prayer and supplication.” Also note that here Luke makes sure to mention they were “with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus…” When the early church was born shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we should also take heed and note the conditions in which this birth of the church took place. Because they “were with one accord in one place” during Pentecost, these circumstances allowed the Holy Spirit to be free to move among them. (Acts 2:1) There were one hundred and twenty people in the upper room united in purpose, baptized by the Spirit, and made one in Christ. This was quite a miracle that one hundred and twenty isolated individuals who had been living separate lives, were now, by one mighty act, baptized by the Spirit into one body.
Let us examine the three symbols associated with this event. First, the wind is evident as a symbol of invisible power. It is identified as sovereign, mighty, powerful, irresistible, and invincible, but it is altogether invisible, just like the wind. These people present at Pentecost were filled with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power; this is ultimately God’s concept of the local church. Secondly, we see the symbol of the fire, which represents passion and purity. In the Old Testament, fire depicts at least two things: either a purifier, which burns up the dross, garbage and waste, or a symbol of enthusiasm, passion and purpose. If these two elements are present in any local church, there will be a hunger for God that will purify the lives of those in fellowship. Thirdly, there is the symbol of tongues, which speaks of proclamation. This meant that those baptized into one body and filled with the Holy Spirit wasted no time in proclaiming the good news. The first proclamation of the gospel was presented miraculously in fifteen different known languages. Each time we read of the apostles or the church being filled with the Holy Spirit, they always spoke or proclaimed the gospel with boldness, clarity and power. This is also an illustration of what every local church should be today: the epitome of power, passion, and proclamation.
Against the picture of the biblical birth of the church, there are currently many new things springing up. In my humble opinion, although these were launched with the best of intentions, they have gotten out of hand and are not of God, rather are simply gratifying to the flesh. Having said that, let me hasten to say that many assemblies are not remiss in adding confusion to the chaotic religious scene. We lag behind other evangelistic groups, where once we were leaders. Our evangelical zeal has waned and in many areas is non-existent. We seem to be sinking into an introverted exclusivism.
The Scriptural Pattern of Planting Churches
The church in Jerusalem had leaders who were raised up by God. After the fourth period of persecution in the Roman Empire, many early Christians were scattered abroad since they had to leave Jerusalem, so they traveled and settled in many places preaching the gospel. These ordinary Christians were probably the first missionaries. Among these men was Philip, a man who possessed two of the basic essentials and credentials of a true servant of God: wisdom and fullness of the Holy Spirit. No one should pursue or launch into the Lord’s work without these two vital aspects of Christian service.
The first Samaritan church was probably established in the city of Samaria. The diaspora of believers from Jerusalem leads us to believe that many Jewish and Samaritan churches were established. In Acts 9:31, Luke reports, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” We also know that the first Gentile church was established in Antioch. This thriving church was ruled by men of God, as we can see from Acts 13:1-3. Luke reports, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers…as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” I believe it is imperative that local churches should be governed by spiritual men which are God-appointed elders, because an assembly cannot function scripturally apart from elders, neither can it rise above the spirituality of its elders.
Acts 13:16 also teaches us valuable lessons in church planting by seeing how Paul went about establishing local churches. First, he preached the gospel, and then the converts were taught and formed into a church. Of necessity, these newborn churches were then usually left for a short period of time so Paul or his workers could travel on to other locations. When Paul reached the limits of his missionary exercise of traveling to new places and establishing churches, he then retraced his steps, visiting the young churches, appointing elders with much prayer and fasting, then committing them to the Lord. The elders were appointed as an expedient in the first instance, but because later some began to abuse their office, an issuing of explicit instructions regarding the qualifications of future elders was necessary.
Important Factors in Starting a New Work
The birth of the church at Pentecost was the result of Christ’s suffering and death. In much the same way, the birth of any local church should be the outcome of agonizing, deep, and spiritual exercise of godly men before the Lord. Brothers, whatever you do, you must be seeking God’s mind and His wisdom over any matter before you can have God’s approval. In addition, your movements must be for the glory of Christ and controlled by the Holy Spirit. Your work should always have the supportive, prayerful and financial interest of the state assemblies. After all, you cannot build a fruitful local church with a few new believers or with carnal men at the helm. For the spiritual welfare and the expansion of the local church, spiritual leadership is absolutely necessary, either in the form of a qualified full-time worker or spiritual elders, but the ideal is to have both. If you are indeed in the process of choosing a full time worker, let us look at the qualifications for such a person. First and foremost, this person must be raised and led by the Spirit. He should be a man of God, have a heart for the weak, and a Pastor as well as a teacher who knows how to counsel, handle, and relate to people well. He must also know how to involve other people in the work of the church, yet he should be active while still staying somewhat in the background. Personal visitation is also very important with a full-time worker. We should also always remember that while the bringing of a full time worker into the ministry is probably one of the most effective ways of reaching a community, it is sometimes fraught with difficulty and pitfalls.